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When Love Stands Out

II Samuel 1:23-27
David A. Davis
June 27, 2021
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 Last week in the sermon on David and Goliath, I referred to the “one who would be king, the unexpected leader of God’s people, the one for whom God would build a dynasty, the one who embodied strength and faithfulness, who danced pretty much naked before the Lord, who knew the love of a friend, whose faith was proclaimed in such grace-filled words, the one who knew a fall from grace late one afternoon on a rooftop, who tasted of God’s judgement, the father who wept and fasted for his dying child, the one who could sing God with such heartfelt joy. Here in the lesson for day it is that same one, David, singing in sorrow and lament.

The story of David in the pages of I and II Samuel offer a biblical portrayal of the complexities of the human story; a wide range of the complexity, actually. The recounting of battles and killing and death is frankly, relentless and unfortunately, timeless. The story of David and Bathsheba, the account of rooftop lust and sex and infidelity, plus David conspiring to have Bathsheba’s husband Uriah sent to the battle front to be killed, well, it seems to reflect part of the human story that never goes away. Such a frank telling of sinfulness and God’s judgment, then, stands in contrast to David’s shameless life of praise that mortified and angered his wife Michal That’s the story of David leaping and dancing before the Ark of God as he victoriously returns the ark to Jerusalem.  The juxtaposition of sin and piety, lack of obedience and yet faithfulness, it’s just genuine and authentic both in I and II Samuel and in the life of faith.  The story of David, or rather “house of David” as Luke describes it in the birth story of Jesus, the house of David was full of God and faith and life and the world. Full of all of it.

David’s ode, offered for your hearing this morning, is the song David offers after receiving the news of the death of Saul, the first King of Israel and his son Jonathan. In his own sinful self, King Saul is plagued by his own paranoia and yearning for power. But he takes an early shine to David. It wasn’t just that victory over the champion Goliath, David was also able to calm the king with the beauty of his music. The striking bond of friendship between David and Jonathan began pretty much as soon as Saul brings David into the royal fold. As the bible tells it, “Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as his own soul.”

The friendship between the young men, a friendship forged on the battlefields and in the house of royalty, is quickly challenged as King Saul decides he is going to have David killed. The bottom line is that David is getting too much attention and too much praise for his military success. Jonathan tries to intercede on David’s behalf but is only able to hold off the plot for a little while. Saul resolves again to kill David. David flees for his life out into the fields as Jonathan searches for information about his father’s plans. Jonathan finds out that David’s life would be forever in danger in the court of his father the king. Jonathan risks his own life to find David and he tells him to get out of town. They meet out in the field as Jonathan is supposedly practicing his bow and arrow skills. Jonathan confirms that David has to go and they part in tears and in an embrace. Jonathan says to David, “The Lord shall be between you and me, and between my descendants and your descendants, forever.”

 Other than one more battlefield covenant between David and Jonathan reported in I Samuel, Jonathan isn’t mentioned again until the report of his death in battle, along with his father and his brothers at the hand of the Philistines. That report is what leads to David’s song, David’s ode. It’s a common genre in antiquity. A poem offered in praise of a king (apparently even on who tried to have you killed). A song to honor military strength and victory. In the language of today, one would consider an ode a secular piece. Notice there is no mention of God or faith in David’s ode even though David had penned so many stanzas addressed to and in praise of the Lord God Almighty. Pretty standard fare. David’s funeral dirge here in I and II Samuel. Except for Jonathan. Except for how David tells of their love, their loyalty, their friendship. David laud’s the king but Jonathan is the one whom he laments. “Your love to me was wonderful.” It’s the love that stands out, that seems out of place, that catches the eye and the ear.

When you read what comes before and what comes after David’s elegy, it’s war and death on both sides. So to praise courage and strength makes sense. It’s the love and friendship that seems odd. All these chapters that tell of David’s live; his victories, his sinfulness, all the twists and turns, the complications, and its love that throws the reader of balance. “Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” The Old Testament world can seem so foreign, so distant from our experience, so far removed from how you and I perceive and relate to God, that strange old world of the bible. But here it is love and friendship that leaps off the page. So full of the world and life and God and faith, all of it. And tucked right there in the middle of all of it is such an extraordinary, ordinary, timeless expression of love.

As we celebrate Gideon Moorhead’s baptism this morning, I am told that Gideon’s dad Stefan just finished his 20th year of teaching high school history. Grandfather Jim had an accomplished career teaching history at Princeton Theological Seminary. Jim Moorhead is the historian who helped do the research in the records of the Presbyterian Historical Society on the removal of pastor William Robeson as the pastor of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church by the Presbytery of New Brunswick. A commission, likely an all-commission of members of the presbytery voted to remove him because area presbyterian leaders were not pleased with the content and impact of his preaching and ministry. As Jim Moorhead told me back then “When you read historic things like minutes, you often learn more from what is not said.” In the instance of those minutes, no specific charges of misconduct were mentioned. Rev. Robeson was just being too successful in his ministry of empowering the African American community. Records of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church include a description of the pastor’s last Sunday preaching to an overflowing church there just down the street. What is not said there but is very clear is the love shared between a congregation and their pastor. Sometimes love stands out.

I had my first mask encounter a few weeks ago. I was in the hardware store over at the shopping center. Their sign had changed to read “masks optional for those who are vaccinated.” I am vaccinated and I kept my mask on in the store. Most folks were masked that afternoon. I turned the corner of an aisle and ran into a guy I used to coach with when my kids were young. He was not wearing a mask and he looked at me and the first thing he said was “Why the heck are you wearing that thing?” He didn’t use the word heck and he said it with an awful lot of disdain. I was a bit thrown and I responded, “I’m just trying to be nice.” He said, “I’m done being nice.” Now I have to admit, what I said next did not come from my best self, but I said “Well, you never were nice!”. To his credit, he laughed. I am not sure if his laugh was because I made a good joke or because he thought I was right, but he laughed. The conversation only lasted a bit longer as we asked about each other’s kids. But at a time when trying to be nice to others elicits disdain, more love ought to stand out.

A few years ago, an evangelical mega-church pastor wrote a book entitled “Love Wins”. It was a very short book that recounted his own growing sense of the overwhelming breadth and depth of the love of God. A love so overwhelming that it led him to question his own theological convictions when it came to things like judgment, and hell, and notions of universalism. When the book first came out Rob Bell was doing the proverbial book tour. I was on a conference call one day serving on a committee of the national church and pastor from Atlanta told us there were protesters on the sidewalk of his church because Rob Bell was speaking there that night. He said to us “Can you believe there are people out there protesting love”. Rob Bell was effectively expunged from the evangelical world for his book “Love Wins”.

“Can you believe there are people out there protesting love”.  Think of all the folks at the Pride parade in NYC today who would give testimony to pretty much a lifetime of others protesting their love. Protesting and worse. I and I Samuel, pages so full of So full of the world and life and God and faith, all of it. And it is love that leaps off the page. Our lives, you and me, these days, do full of the world and life and God and faith. Can just a little more love start leaping from the page? I wonder if anyone protested or questioned or hassled old King David when it came to his extraordinary, ordinary, timeless expression of love.

Part of what Gideon’s baptism means is that we are celebrating his place, his initiation, his being here with us in the Body of Christ. And the next time someone asks you about church, about the importance of a community of faith, about why bother, or if folks will even come back when it is safe and normal to do so again. Think about this…when it comes to love, to the practice of love, to how love works in the world, to learning about the love of God and learning to love your neighbor as yourself, Gideon is going to learn that from his parents and his family fathered here, but after them, after his incredible family that surrounds him today, where’s the next place, the next group, the next community that’s going to teach Gideon about love, about extraordinary, ordinary, timeless expressions of love, after Gideon’s family teaches him about a love that stands out, whose next?

Well, that would be you.